Jindal a non-factor in legislative process thus far

Gov. BOBBY JINDAL’s appointment of Breaux Bridge native SCOTT ANGELLE as interim lieutenant governor clearly settled who the No. 2 person in state government is for the short term.

The lingering question in the halls of the Capitol? Who is No. 1?

Most observers would say it’s either Speaker of the House JIM TUCKER or Senate President JOEL CHAISSON, as Jindal has taken a series of legislative defeats in the past two weeks, which has largely been dwarfed by all of the media attention on the tragic oil rig explosion and spill.

Consider the following :
1. Last week the House Appropriations Committee, at Republican Speaker Tucker’s urging and over the vocal objection of the Jindal administration, passed legislation that gives legislative oversight to how the Louisiana Recovery Authority spends the remaining $3 billion in federal recovery funds. Tucker’s bill even allows local government the autonomy to spend the money in alternative fashions not related to rebuilding/recovery.
2. The House and Senate have thus far breezed through legislation Jindal opposes to tap into the Rainy Day Fund for $198 million (the fund contains more than $700 million) to help close the budget deficit for fiscal year ending June 30. This effort is being led by Chaisson, a Destrehan Democrat. The legislators are largely ignoring Jindal’s opening day of session plan to instead use funds reserved for an LSU Charity Hospital settlement with the federal government to close the gap.
3. Democratic Sen. JOE MCPHERSON of Woodworth, a Jindal opponent who is by no means considered a force in the Senate, was successful in legislatively repealing the administrative license plate fee increase Jindal implemented by Executive Order before the start of the session. McPherson garnered 21 votes, while the Jindal team lobbied hard against it. Even with State Police Col. MIKE EDMONSON and Chief of Staff TIMMY TEEPELL looking on in the Senate Gallery, Jindal forces could muster only seven votes to prevent the repeal. A stunning defeat.
4. Sen. ED MURRAY, a Democrat from New Orleans, was successful in passing Senate Bill 18 out of committee, over the vocal objection and opposition of the Jindal administration, which will give the Senate the power to confirm or reject Jindal’s appointees to the new board governing the soon-to-be-constructed Charity Teaching Hospital in New Orleans.
One would be hard pressed to find a week in legislative history that has been worse for a governor, or where such an erosion of the governor’s power has occurred. Legislators, and now apparently even the governor’s own legislative leadership, no longer fear opposing the administration — a rarity in Louisiana legislative history. While Jindal has been understandably very occupied with the state’s response to the oil spill, this series of defeats points out two major challenges he faces: His very shallow relations with individual legislators (he does not personally engage himself in the process) will make it very difficult for him to sway them to support him on politically sensitive votes; and, with the exception of the affable Lt. Gov. Scott Angelle, he has little to no horsepower on his staff in terms of legislative skill. This does not bode well for Jindal, as the state faces a number of significant financial, and now environmental, crises in the coming year.

Assessing Long-Term Speaker Pro Tempore Fallout

The recent election of state Rep. JOEL ROBIDEAUX to the No. 2 position in the House of Representatives was unprecedented in that it was the first time in at least the past 25 years that a leadership election came down to a public vote. Normally, heads are counted behind closed doors, and one candidate concedes, sparing the body of 105 from a divisive vote between its own. This old goat has nibbled around enough to clearly learn who the winners and losers of the Robideaux election were.

The Winners:
1. Lafayette and UL — As the No. 2 Man in the House, Robideaux will now be “in the room” when budget expenditure decisions are finalized on the House side, which could pay huge dividends for Lafayette business interests as well as UL.
2. NANCY LANDRY — She stuck with her home boy and mentor and was rewarded with a seat on the powerful House and Governmental Affairs Committee when Speaker Jim Tucker demoted some Republicans for supporting Robideaux’s rival, Democratic Rep. NOBLE ELLINGTON of Winnfield. As a committee member, she will decide on how legislative districts are redrawn and reapportioned population-wise. Very powerful position.
3. PAGE CORTEZ — With Robideaux now the man-in-waiting in terms of succeeding Jim Tucker as speaker of the House, Robideaux will focus his sights on being the next speaker of the House after the 2011 elections — and not run for the vacated Senate seat created by Mike Michot’s term-limited retirement. This opens the door for freshman Rep. Page Cortez, a Republican, to be Michot’s successor.
4. RICKEY HARDY — As one of only a handful of black legislators to support Robideaux, the Democrat places himself in position to be the go-to man in the Black Caucus. He’ll have the ear of the House leadership.
5. MIKE MICHOT — He reportedly worked hard for Robideaux behind the scenes, figuring it would not only enhance Lafayette’s influence, but likely help mend his past turbulent relationship with Tucker, as Robideaux can serve as a great conduit between the two.
6. FRED MILLS — He made Robideaux’s nominating speech and is credited with helping secure a handful of black votes, which proved vital. Under a future Robideaux speakership, Mills will be able to choose which committee he wants to chair.

The Losers:
1. JACK MONTOUCET — In the end, the Crowley Democrat stuck with his party versus his own delegation, making it unlikely he will see Michot or Robideaux break a sweat to help fund anything in his district.
2. BERNARD LEBAS — also stuck with his party versus his Acadiana delegation. Same will hold true on funding of his Evangeline Parish projects.
3. Franklin’s SAM JONES and Eunice’s MICKEY GUILLORY  — see Nos. 1 and 2 above.

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